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Entries in identity (42)

Monday
Apr032017

21039 Pacific Coast Highway life

David Hockney sitting in the living room of his Malibu house, March 1988 Photo: © Condé Nast Archive / Corbis Artwork: © 2015 David Hockney

The streetview of Hockney's beach house studio (below) is quite bleak, and yet inside 21039 Pacific Coast Highway when Hockney worked in it exploded with light and colour.  Above is a photo of Hockney in the beach house: the jungle of plants through the window, the bright furniture, the brilliantly white walls.  I should think that growing up in Bradford during the war and the bomb-damaged 1950s and then being teleported to sunny California of turquoise and hot pink would hit all the rods and cones of the eye like a thunderbolt.  So gay, in the old sense of the word, so carefree.  So sun-filled.  So primary.  

Below is his 1980 painting, Mulholland Drive: the Road to the Studio.  Compared to the actual road to the studio there is something spiritual about the colour.  This is more than just using acrylics straight from the tube, it is an affirmation of an intensely vivid new life.

David Hockney. Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980 acrylic on canvas,  86x243 in.

Monday
Mar272017

David Hockney. A Bigger Splash, 1967

David Hockney. A Bigger Splash Acrylic paint on canvas, 2425 x 2439 x 30 mm. Tate T03254

This very well-known painting epitomises all the burnt landscape/blue tiled pools of California that are so romantic to those of us from different landscapes.  The image is of one of those minimalist modern tract houses of Los Angeles.  The Kaufmann House was a beautiful example, but in the 1950s and 60s all little suburban LA houses had a pool. 

Hockney painted this one with a roller and Liquitex — a discussion about painterliness, image and surface that was intense at the time.  The traditional surfaces of art were vehicles for the depth of field and the rendering of image.  The painter's skill was measured in its passion and its verity.  Postwar abstraction focussed on the surface itself, not the image.   In The Bigger Splash, the painted part floats in a larger square of unpainted, unprimed canvas: it clearly is acrylic paint flatly applied to material stapled to the wall, a rejection of the centuries of priming and underpainting, working and reworking in oil paint to the edges of the stretchered linen ground.  The part that is painterly, the splash, was done with brushes, but the splash itself was something Hockney found in a book of photos of swimming pools.  It wasn't about direct observation from the side of the pool, but rather direct painting from a photograph, another transgression of expected fidelity to a visual experience.  This was a figurative work assembled like a collage of banal images and as deep as banality can be.  

It is in such a thin, un-reflexive, uninteresting world that one can remake oneself — is this not the dream of the new world, without class, history, social conventions and repressive social narratives?  Of course 1960s southern California was not without its class by wealth, division by race and services by ethnicity, but if you had come from grey, cramped, mingey, prissy England of postwar rationing and criminalisation of homosexual acts, Los Angeles must have been a nirvana for a young white artist with an excellent education and something to say.  

If you take every artwork you see as a thesis, rather than as an image, much is revealed.  Everything means something.  Painting in Liquitex with a roller isn't a casual act, it is right at the centre of the nexus of abstraction and conceptualism.  Copying a photograph continues Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton's late-1950s appropriation of images in the public domain.  And yet, and yet, it is the image of a bigger splash, used as the title for a Hockney documentary, many reconstructions of the pool and the house online, reworking of the image itself as homage, as graphic design, as really dreadful reassemblies.  Just look at Hockney+splash on Google images.

Secretly I think we all still would quite like to live in southern California, in a little modern flat-roofed house with a pool.  It is a bit of a dream, still. 

Thursday
Mar172016

Métis dog coats

Miep von Sydow: IditarodFor some reason I find this picture hysterically funny – the laugh for today – amid all the allegations of abuse to have the dogs tethered and running day after day.  Dogs like to work, to do the things they are bred for.  If you leave them just lying around being ‘natural’ they get grumpy and yappy.  They make their own work projects such as sending off the mailgirl every day.  

Whatever, I came across this picture while looking for this year’s very chic team all wearing hot pink boots as they tore across Alaska:

DeeDee Jonrowe leaves the Huslia checkpoint during the 2015 Iditarod. Jonrowe, a 62-year-old cancer survivor, is a legend of the sport. She has run the Iditarod 35 times, with 16 top-ten finishes. Photo: Katie OrlinskyDogs, dressed for the weather, have a long history.

This was painted by Peter Rindisbacher  in the 1820's in the Red River area. The three dogs pulling the sleigh are covered in small beaded red blankets with yellow accents. They have sets of bells around their necks and additional bells sticking out above their collars in a colourful display. Again, this image is from the brilliant Portage La Loche website. Click on the image to go to the page about Métis dog blankets.These coats are very beautiful:

Dog blanket, Western Subarctic. Aboriginal: Dene, Slavey 1900-1915. Velvet, canvas cloth, cotton bias tape, wool yarn, glass beads, metal beads, sinew, cotton cloth, cotton ribbon, hide, 51 x 55 cm. © McCord Museum ME966X.111.3

The coat for warmth and the flare, tall and tasselled, attached to the neckband of the harness along with bells for visibility perhaps. The pictures give little hint of being caught in a blizzard white-out.  

Monday
Mar142016

Métis couture: Belcourt and Valentino

Valentino Resort 2016

Christi Belcourt, Water Song, 2011. acrylic on canvas The difference between this and D2’s appropriation of aboriginal garments, is that Valentino asked; it was a collaboration between Belcourt, her painting Water Song, and Valentino fabric designer Francesco Bova.
It is both Métis and métissage, this collaboration of painting and fabric printing, Métis culture and Italian couture.  The garments are Valentino; the surfaces are Belcourt. 

Thursday
Mar102016

Canadian expressionist architecture

Gaboury, Lussier, Sigurdson Architects. Église du Précieux Sang, 1968. WinnipegCardinal and Gaboury are both cited by David Fortin as Métis architects. Their work is characteristically expressionist: curvy, curvy, curvy, sometimes structural (Gaboury), sometimes merely shapely (Cardinal). I’m not sure either of these two practice a métis architecture of any sort of theoretical nature, given the times in which they worked – late twentieth century eccentric architecture which, however, was built securely within an establishment of clients, financing, contractors, developers, lawyers and government. Gaboury, in Préciex Sang, above, referenced both Le Corbusier and Eladio Dieste. 

Their ethnicity as Métis does not mean they practice a métis architecture any more than one could say Zaha Hadid’s superlatively expressionist architecture is is métis.  The identification of expressionism with métissage isn’t safe.  The whole discussion must go beyond the visual. 

Tuesday
Mar082016

métissage

Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker. Metis, On the Surface, Arkitektskolen Aarhus, Denmark, 2015

métis, from old French, mestis, from Latin mixticius, cognate of Spanish mestizo, Portuguese mestiço: the mixing of aboriginal peoples and Europeans.  In Canada métissage began with contact, centuries ago, emerging as ‘a distinctive socio-cultural heritage, a means of ethnic self-identification and a political and legal category’ (The Canadian Encyclopedia). 

It is a curse of postmodernism that everything can be metaphorical: the danger in delineating a Métis architecture is that the word ‘hybridity’ is inevitable.  But not here, with the capital M Métis: it is the architecture of a particular people, and yes it has hybrid characteristics, but not all hybridity in architecture is Métis.  

For On Site review 34: on writing, I mentioned a new book by Mark Dorrian, Writing on the Image. Architecture, the City and the Politics of Representation.   Circumstances meant I couldn’t do a proper review, however, Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker have a critical practice in Edinburgh called Metis meant to connect architectural teaching, research and practice.  Their word, metis, is from the Greek, rather than the Latin: Metis was the daughter of Oceanus, first wife of Zeus and mother of Athena.  The word metis combines wisdom with cunning, an Odysseus-like quality.  No connection with mixing, or métissage.
Metis's mandate is on their website: They focus ‘on the city and the complex ways in which it is imagined, inhabited, and representationally encoded. They seek to produce rich, multi-layered works that resist immediate consumption and that are instead gradually unfurled over time through interaction with them. Their approach is concerned with establishing a poetic but critical approach to the city that is sensitive to its cultural memory but is also articulated in relation to its possible futures.

In some ways this outlines what a métis architecture could be: taking the socio-cultural history of Métis building as fundamental to a Canadian architecture as cultural memory: a way of working that recognises encoded cultures through representation, and resignifies such cultures in a wise and cunning, complex and deep description of our various futures, whether urban, rural, individual or cooperative.

It is curious, this accidental coincidence of five letters, one with an accent aigule, that can begin to theorise a Métis architecture if you simply put them side by side and start to squeeze them together.  It is a kind of metissage in itself, a dadaist accident, that reveals so many new paths.

Thursday
Mar032016

Métis architecture

Métis Farmstead Buildings – See Burley, David, Gayel A. Horsfall, and John D. Brandon. 1992. Structural considerations of Métis ethnicity: an archaeological, architectural, and historical study. Vermillion: University of South Dakota Press. Used with permission by David Burley.

David Fortin is in an RAIC 2016 session, speaking about Métis architecture, his widely-funded research project at Laurentian University.  He is studying Métis and their design sensibility: how they build – his webpage banner shows the curved edge of a Cardinal building.  Pointing out that there is not universal agreement on who is considered Métis and there is little material architectural culture that points directly to a Métis architecture, Fortin’s project is framed as ‘a discussion about weaving together Métis history with contemporary topics linked to culture and identity’.

I’m going to do some summarising here from an essay on Fortin’s website because it is interesting how he has started this project.  He sees three conditions of Metis design: ‘1) a distinct responsiveness to the landscape, 2) an emphasis on egalitarian space, and 3) an informal approach to design’.  Informality refers to  ‘flexibility, adaptability, and imprintability’.  His process is to study what material culture there is, in the manner of Henry Glassie who read historical legacies of building details, mapping them to migration, emigration and immigration.  

I first discovered Glassie in the mid-1980s with his Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States. I was teaching in the Eastern United States at the time; Glassie was my guide to the folklore and folk traditions of building. I amassed a huge archive of log construction that in my experience culminated with cabins built in the Smokey Mountains out of ancient poplars where a slice through the trunk might be 4’ wide: a wall took just two boards, and they were still jointed like a regular log cabin corner would be.  There is method, and there is material: whatever the method and however old it is, the material bends it to fit.  This is what is so exciting about vernacular building: its utterly expeditious adaptability.

At the same time, and here Glassie wasn’t a guide, I recorded the reconstructed villages of aboriginal peoples throughout the eastern States.  The US is good with this sort of thing: there are reconstructions galore, pamphlets and books that range from oral histories to academic research – I mean there were then, not sure about now.  Canada not so good at this sort of thing: reserves and Nations are more private, more defensive. One wonders if there is some kind of political obstruction to examining aboriginal material culture. Fortin cites Burley’s Structural Considerations of Métis Ethnicity: An Archaeological, Architectural, and Historical Study.  This was published by the University of South Dakota Press in 1992: why wasn’t it published in Canada?  Why isn’t it in every bookstore rather than on Google books with an unmarked cover?

There is a a lot of research on the Haida, the Coast Salish, the Glenbow museum has vast Blackfoot collections, but I’ve always found it a bit of a struggle to discover any sort of delight in walking around glass cases of the real thing, compared to walking around a reconstructed village that presents a holistic synthesis of construction, fabrics, food, pots, where the horses were, how big the fires were, how were pieces of wood joined together (pins? sinew? hide? trade nails? gravity?).  I realise such things are necessarily incomplete, we don’t know much about the unrecorded, but we can start to think, to hazard, to speculate based on human nature, how things might have worked –– this is the basis of scholarly pursuit. It shouldn't however, be just the preserve of the museum and the academy.

Wednesday
Jun042014

Indian Candy 2

Dana Claxton. Contact billboard, 9th Avenue SE, Calgary. right: Tantanka (buffalo) 2013. Indian Candy in the process of disappearing. Real billboard images are clear, art is ambiguous; advertising is immediate, art prints itself on the mind and sits there the rest of the day as one tries to make sense of it.

Artefacts exist, but it is not necessary to 'see' them.  Claxton is interested in the image, not the artefact, and how the image has a life much more insidious and invasive that the material thing.  It makes one rethink the value of archives (all the originals) and their digitisation, free to use in a way the originals will never be.

Claxton's images in Indian Candy belong to an era before even my time, more like the 1920s-40s, the era of the Hollywood western.  We used to see them at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday mornings when I was a kid, and on Fun-o-Rama, a kid's late afternoon TV program from Seattle in the 1950s: endless reruns of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Three Stooges, lots of David Niven as a swashbuckler.  But even then the white hat/black hat/Indian chief thing was remote, disconnected to all the kids from the Esquimalt Reserve that went to our elementary school.  It never occurred to me that Donny Albany was an 'Indian'; it was something I learned much later, that he was the son of the Esquimalt band Chief. (old terminology, I know, but it was the 50s, sorry)

The power of Claxton's images is that they pinpoint an era and a process whereby the stereotypes were formed and then embedded in the American psyche via popular culture: the midway, movies, toys, games, TV.  During the long era of residential schools in both the US and Canada which were gutting the structures of North America's indigenous peoples, they were portrayed as dangerous, fearsome and inscrutable – a portrayal that was, and still is used on any group resisting assimilation.

Dana Claxton. Contact billboard, 9th Avenue SE, Calgary. Sitting Bull's signature, 2013Forgetting that this was our Contact billboard, I first thought it was something to do with the Stampede which starts its advertising about now.  However, violet is not a Stampede colour, nor is the dangerous allusion to difficult histories.  Clearly, if this is Sitting Bull's signature, he was taught to write in commercial script.  Is it shaky because someone else wrote it for the Wild West Show postcard and it seemed appropriate?  Another act of embedded 'weakness'? 

I don't think it is his signature.  You cannot trust documents. 

Tuesday
Jun032014

Dana Claxton: Indian Candy

Dana Claxton. Contact billboards, Dundas Street West, Toronto. left, Geronimo in Pink, 2013; right Tantanka (buffalo) 2013

Dana Claxton is one of the exhibitors at Scotiabank Contact this year, and three of her works are on billboards on Calgary's 9th Avenue SE: on my corner is Sitting Bull's signature taken from a postcard handed out by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, where such troubling heroes had become exhibitions.

The billboards are owned by Pattison, and the exhibition of Contact works is part of Pattison's Art in Transit programme. May and June each year are a treat, as our same billboards always have Contact works, and then they go back to being commercials.  Would it be too much for Pattison to denote these billboards as permanent sites for photographs from the best of Canada's artists?  It gives so much to think about, these beautiful and provocative images.

Claxton's billboard images are drawn from her series Indian Candy, chromogenic prints on aluminum of the clichés of the 'wild west' indian: Tonto, Geronimo, Maria Tallchief in exotic headdress, a buffalo, writing on stone petroglyphs, Sitting Bull, a feathered war bonnet, a ledger drawing, all taken from the vast archive that is the net, pixellations and all, and then washed in bright candy-coloured chemical colours. The narrative line is the ambiguity between history and popular culture, the Wild West Show exemplifying the confusion: were the Indian Wars, the stock in trade of the western movie, history or entertainment?  After Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull crossed the border into Saskatchewan, living there for five years. Claxton's reserve is Wood Mountain First Nation and is descended from Sitting Bull's people.

It is interesting that actual location of all the original pieces she uses are in various archives – where doesn't matter as they can all be found on the web, somewhere, copied and re-assembled, manipulated, emphasised, re-arranged. The validity of the images is not in the contiguity of evidence, original piece next to original piece that traditionally makes a good archival collection. Their validity is that the images circulate in the public domain, and someone has pulled pieces together to say something. The order in which the fragments of evidence are shuffled tells particular histories: the way the US Department of the Interior arranged them both demonises and patronises Sitting Bull's resistance to colonisation; the way Claxton recontextualises the same pieces tells the aftermath.

 

Thursday
May222014

the SoftWheel wheelchair

SoftWheel wheelchair

If yesterday's Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair had all the dignity of a chair, the chair of the Soft Wheel wheelchair is near-invisible.  It was developed (through Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator and the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Economics) by a fit Israeli farmer who had broken his pelvis and was shocked by the state of ordinary wheelchairs on off-road terrain.

There is nothing faintly humanitarian in this project, it is pure technology, this wheel, and about time too.  The Acrobat™ wheel used in the Soft Wheel project, uses three shock absorbers rather than spokes and is also being used in bikes.  Until the wheel meets an obstacle, such as a stair, or curb, or pothole, it acts as a normal wheel, but on encountering a large and immoveable change of grade, the shock absorbers reconfigure their lengths in a form of selective suspension.  The wheel itself absorbs impact, rather than the chair or the body.  I sense it will be expensive.

Clearly a first-world device: businessman, downtown, big city, good shirt: we get it. This isn't about difficulty, but about success.

Grand idea, what is interesting is the invisibility of the 'wheelchair' in all the promotional material; if there are handles at the back they don't appear.  The wheels alone are obvious, as substitute legs.  This is blade runner stuff where there is almost an advantage to prosthetic technology over the able-bodied, a shift in perception that was brought to the fore in the London Paralympics in 2012.  Disability is increasingly (theoretically) an anachronism.

It is at either end of the wheelchair trajectory – one end is the plastic garden chair, the other is the Acrobat™ wheel – that exciting developments occur, each filtering in towards the middle, or so one hopes.

Monday
May122014

once strong, but now weak, systems

This video, Andy Merrifield outlining the basis for his book The New Urban Question, came by way of Rodrigo Barros, a Chilean architect currently training as a construction logistician for Médecins Sans Frontiers.  Barros did a brilliant piece for On Site review 31: mapping | photography on the 'rightness' of maps that centre on the United States and allow South America to drift off the global view.  His is the view from the South.
 
This particular view, after forty years of intense geopolitical theorising from Latin America, is his lens, and so he picks up on a certain theoretical vocabulary found in Merrifield's brief outline of just how Manuel Castells' explanation of urban social movements has been superseded by a new form of divisive capitalism.  

When states can no longer afford the social services they subsidised in the full flush of postwar capitalist development, their disinvestment in such things as health care and housing pushed such services into the private sector.  This gave rise to urban social movements which struggled to hold governments to their role as keepers of some sort of public faith.  Merrifield feels that the turn to mass privatisation in the 1980s and 90s obliviated urban social movements and that a new paradigm must be developed that returns public space to the public, public health to the public, public housing to the public, the public service to the public.  

Just yesterday there was an interview on CBC with the head of Canada Post whose former position was as the head of Pitney Bowes. There we are. Pitney Bowes is an American private mail and data service for businesses.  Under the Pitney Bowes model, Canadian mail is no longer a public service, it is a corporate business, thus the end of home delivery, the shocking price of stamps and the full support of our current neo-conservative Thatcher/Reaganite form of government. This gives me particular grief.  We are a non-profit publisher with a publications mail contract with Canada Post which gives us a discount on mailing On Site review, except for international mailings which tend never to arrive.  Or if they do arrive it has taken six months to get to, say, Denmark. In contrast, Valery Didion's Criticat is sent from France at a book rate, €2.95, which gets here in a week.  In return I send On Site back to them at publications rate which may or may not get there several months later, or I spend $18 to send it letter mail which gets there in a week.  

Somehow Canada as a wide, dispersed country only sees urban social movements of any consequence in Toronto and Montréal, especially Montréal, infrequently and now rarely, Toronto.  In the rest of the country there isn't the critical mass to act collectively from say, Alberta to Manitoba, so sparse is the population. CBC used to be the glue that held us together, its recent cuts have been lethal.  It is all one with the sacking of scientists, the gutting of census collection and analysis, the cutting free of wounded Canadian Forces from their pensions, cutbacks to universities: the private sector is supposed to be picking up the slack, but it isn't.  And the time is past, according to Merrifield, for Castells' urban social movements to have any influence at all.  In this country, we missed that phase altogether.  

Friday
Jan182013

Edith Sitwell: poet, brick

The extremely generous Edith Sitwell, modernist poet, interviewed by the BBC in 1959:

And a younger version, in 1928:

Dame Edith Sitwell, 1928. National Portrait Gallery, London

Wednesday
Nov072012

Isabelle Hayeur: in the middle of nowhere

L'île, 1998, Paysages incertains / Uncertain Landscapes, 107 cm X 244 cm / 42" X 96"

Isabelle Hayeur:  Au milieu de nulle part

As part of Paris Photo at the Canadian Cultural Centre
5, rue de Constantine 75007 Paris
November 14, 2012 to March 22, 2013
Opening reception on November 13, 6h30 pm

From Isabelle Hayeur's press release:

"in the middle of nowhere", which, come to think of it, raises the idea of a strange encounter between geometry and geography. A paradoxical expression that has a wide range of connotations (from irony to poetry, from disenchantment to contemplation), it is used to refer to an object or a place from a relatively unplaceable space. Here, photography demonstrates its power to represent space-time continuums outside our everyday world, outside its flux, noise and inattention. The subjects seem to be uprooted, deprived of rooting in nature, of links to the earthly continuum. For Pascal Grandmaison, Isabelle Hayeur and Thomas Kneubühler, the framing is a crucial process that proposes another way of dividing up reality to take us elsewhere. Not towards some form of exoticism but, on the contrary and more colloquially, to the middle of nowhere.

« Au milieu de nulle part » est une expression qui pointe une chose ou un emplacement isolé, qui sort de l'ordinaire ou qui fait saillie de manière inopinée à partir de l'immensité plane. Littéralement une situation insituable – une absurdité, un paradoxe, une tromperie, un leurre, un éclat – qui représente un objet fabuleux pour la photographie. Les photographes Pascal Grandmaison, Isabelle Hayeur et Thomas Kneubühler, réunis ici pour la première fois, ont en commun cet intérêt manifeste pour ce qui n'est pas censé être au centre de l'attention. Par le cadrage photographique ils proposent un autre découpage du réel pour nous emmener ailleurs. Non pas vers quelque forme d'exotisme mais, bien au contraire et plus familièrement, « Au milieu de nulle part ».

Monday
May072012

oil in Khanty-Mansiysk

Erick van Egeraat. Chess and Billiard Club, 2008. Khanty-Mansiysk, RussiaKhanty-Mansiysk is something like the Calgary of Siberia: a glossy oil city.  Erick van Egeraat was one of the founders of Mecanoo, and now has one of those globalised practices with offices in Rotterdam, London, Moscow,  Budapest and Prague.  The Chess and Billiard club building was commissioned by the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Region in 2008, and underwritten by Gazprom.  It isn't large, just 8000 m2, but it is special, built for the 2010 Chess Olympiad.  On van Egeraat's website he says that Khanty-Mansiysk 'understood the need to deliver signature buildings that underline the prosperous state the city is in'.  

I've recently been writing about Calgary, which has Foster's behemothic Bow Building as evidence of its prosperous state, and an enormously expensive Calatrava bridge.  Sometimes one wishes that the prosperity was spread about a bit, in small projects such as chess clubs, throughout the city.

Thursday
Mar292012

Patrick Keiller's London, 1994

I've been waiting to see this again for years, since 1994 in fact:

Friday
Feb102012

roundels

French Air Service WWI, Royal Air Force WWI-present, Royal Canadian Air Force 1946-67, 1967-present

Roundels are identifying insignias, usually in military use, meant for easy identification of vehicles and aircraft.  Roundel is a heraldic term: circle.  The French Air Force was the first to use this identification system in WWI: the tricolour in a 1:2:3 proportion.  The Royal Flying Corps followed, with the colours reversed.  All the Commonwealth air forces used the RAF roundel until 1946 when they were redesigned for specific countries.  
The RCAF roundel from 1946-1967 used a winsome maple leaf; after that, it became the maple leaf of the flag.

Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa 1927-46, 1947-57The Royal Australian Air Force put a red kangaroo in the centre of its roundel; the RNZAF a kiwi.  After 1946 Rhodesia put three spears over the centre of the RAF roundel; the South African Air Force, from 1927-1947, an orange centre, from 1947-57 an orange springbok. Now the South African roundel is very complicated: an eagle over a scalloped fort shape.

The original striped roundels were clearly for wartime identification when recognition must be instant and if the markings are indistinct, lethal. Also, the Allies were all pulling together under the RAF, thus they mostly used the RAF insignia.  WW2 was the last gasp of the British Empire, after it came the waves of decolonisation, 'empire' became an unuseable term, replaced by the more anodyne Commonwealth which today is almost without meaning — even the beautiful 1962 Commonwealth Institute building in London (listed Grade II) is now occupied by the Design Museum.  Commonwealth declarations of national identity within the dark blue border of the old British empire were a slow transition to contemporary warfare where, for example, the Canadian Forces operate under NATO command, whose roundel seems, graphically speaking, very ambiguous.

Thursday
Feb092012

RCAF colours

H M the King inspecting aircraft, Thorney Island. Lambert & Butler's Cigarettes: Interesting customs and traditions of Navy, Army & Air Force. 1939, set of 50.

The RAF uniform was designed in 1920: capacious pockets, belted, long, deep vents, well-proportioned: it made everyone look tall. The service dress, above, remained unchanged until the 1960s.  All the Commonwealth air forces: the RCAF, RAAF, RNZAF, RSAAF had the same uniforms, nice smooth dark grey-blue worsted, unlike the scratchy army, evidently. The caps were quite amazing: they unfold to make a balaclava of sorts.

RCAF tartanThe RCAF tartan was invented in 1942, supposedly on PEI, probably at the Summerside base.  The CO of the base, nameless in the DND account, designed the tartan using red, blue and black pencils.  I like this very much: ordinary pencils were black graphite; red and blue leads, often in one pencil, were traditionally used in accounting, so the colours come from just general office equipment.  How very modest, to work within the limitations of one's desk.

Although one can buy the above muffler from something called Heritage Brands, the image on the DND website is more how I remember it — more like a pencil drawing:

The Air Force Tartan, August 15, 1942

Wednesday
Feb082012

CEF formation patches

3rd Canadian Division, 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade flashes, WWI. Player's Cigarette Cards, 2nd Series, No. 120.

These were the badges worn on sleeves and berets, painted on trucks and on signs identifying the units.  They had to be readable at a distance and when found on a body lying in the mud in a trench, so they couldn't be too fussy.  The Division patches of the Canadian Expeditionary Force followed a simple ordering system: the square colour block indicates the division, the brigade is the colour above it, the shape above it indicates the battalion.

3rd Division, CEF. 1914-1918

All very tidy in the diagrams, what they looked like on the uniforms is somewhat more makeshift.

85th Battalion, 4th Canadian Division, formation patch

Thursday
Feb022012

Oxbow, Saskatchewan

Oxbow, Saskatchewan.

The classic prairie town: CPR tracks, Railway Avenue, Main Street crossing at right angles to it, the old town neatly conscribed by the section lines, the new town spilling north into the adjacent quarter-sections.  
Oil is near, developed in the mid-1950s, there is still a grain elevator, dating from the early 1900s, the oxbow is on the Souris River, population 1200, Highway 18 from the Manitoba border to Estevan follows the CPR line and becomes Railway Avenue as it divides the town from the elevator and its outbuildings.

 
Oxbow, Saskatchewan. Google Maps
There used to be one of these towns every 6 miles, or every township.  Now when you drive through southern Saskatchewan often all one sees is a roadside plaque saying that there had, once, been a town there.

We are such a long way from Monday and the Battle of Alesia.

Friday
Jan272012

stone scotland

Charles Rennie MackIntosh. Glasgow Scool of Art, 1897-1909There is something of the black stony towns of Scotland to be found in MacIntosh's school of art in Glasgow.  Although pilgrims go to see its dried thistle-leaf steel window racks and its art nouveau arabesques, it is a hulk of a building – tough, and before it was cleaned, grim.  Less tea room and more castle keep.

William Daniell. Kinnaird Head Castle Lighthouse, Aberdeenshire, 1822.